If you have seen
Tibetan art, you would be familiar with Thangka. It is a traditional Buddhist
painting on a cotton or silk fabric that usually depicts a mandala, a scene, or
a Buddhist deity. The most common is the Thangka painting of the wheel of Samsara
or life, known as Bhavachakra, held in the hands of the wrathful God Yama.
Today, the refined and elegant works of the artists of Tibet have gained
popularity throughout the world. Thangka paintings are similar to Chinese
scroll paintings in the sense that when not on display, they are kept rolled up
and unframed and are affixed on a traditional textile background, further
protected by a silk cover in front. Evidently, in Classical Tibetan, the word
Thangka means “the thing that one unrolls”. Since Thangkas are delicate in
nature, they must be kept in a dry place where moisture cannot affect the silk.
This is why Thangkas last a long time. Thangka paintings
are usually small in size, up to 50 centimeters in height, but those which are
displayed in monasteries for religious purposes for a short period are
extremely large in size. They illustrate elaborate and complex compositions of
various deities to provide an understanding of the Tibetan religion. The
paintings are typically very colorful and beautiful to look at. Thangka
– The Instrumentality Of Storytelling, Meditation and Enlightenment.
Tibetan Buddhist Superfine Thangka - Shakyamuni Buddha Seated on the Six-Ornament Throne of Enlightenment
developed their ethnic characteristics and features from the early Buddhist
paintings which were mostly done on the walls of temples and monasteries. Many
of the murals had Tibetan inscriptions and incorporated many elements from Han
Chinese paintings and some elements reflecting Indian styles. These emphasized
more on the landscape background. Some traditional Buddhist paintings survive
even today in a few sites such as the Ajanta Caves in India and the Mogao Caves
in China. It is from this time that Thangka paintings were developed from the
tradition of Tibetan Buddhist wall paintings.
Thangkas made on cloth can be dated back to the 11th century. In
some old Thangkas, inscriptions in Tibetan can be found on their back usually
depicting the mantra of the deity portrayed. Rarely any painting had the
signature of the commissioner or the artist. The artists of these paintings
were monks rather than famous artists. The commissioner provided them with
valuable materials and they were given compensation which was by tradition
regarded as a gift rather than a fee. They were painted in the areas where
Tibetan Buddhism flourished which included Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, Northeast
China, Lahaul and Spiti District in Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala in Himachal
Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, and some parts of Russia. Sacred Buddhist
Painting - The Tibetan Thangka.
paintings are purely spiritual art that is considered Buddhist iconography and
is displayed in Buddhist temples for religious purposes, several museums around
the world have dedicated sections to these paintings. This brilliant art indeed
has a far-reaching influence and has varied varieties and features that make it
stand out from other traditional illustrative paintings.
Medicine Buddha Thangka (Brocadeless Thangka)
painting’s features are distinct, showcasing the miraculous culture of Tibetan
Buddhism. These are mostly rectangular in shape and their size ranges from
small, to typically larger, to extremely large. Based on the technique and material,
Thangkas can be divided into several categories such as:
– Thangkas are typically painted on
either loosely woven cotton or silk. The paint consists of both mineral and
organic pigments in a water-soluble medium of animal glue.
● Applique – It is a needlework technique using
colorful threads in which smaller pieces of fabric are sewn by hand stitching
or machine onto a larger piece of contrasting color to form a picture. This is
generally done on silk and is usually used to make giant Thangka paintings that
are designed for festivals to be displayed in Buddhist temples.
– This is the most common type of
– With gold lines on a black
– Real gold leaf is used to create a
Gold background that provides a luxurious appearance. It is generally used to
make paintings of fully enlightened Buddhas.
– Gold line on a vermilion
used in making these masterpieces has evolved throughout the years but the
methodology remains constant. Creating a Thangka painting is not an easy task.
It requires a great amount of skill and knowledge as every single feature
represents an aspect of the principles of Buddhism. The Life of
Buddha and the Art of Narration in Buddhist Thangka Paintings.
Thangka is a
piece of Traditional Tibetan Buddhist art that showcases or portrays the
teachings and life of the Buddha. The process of making a Thangka is complex.
Behind the beautiful creation of the painting, there goes perfect craftsmanship
and a deep understanding of the symbols, figures, and deities to capture the
spirit of it. Depending on the size and nature of the Thangka painting, the
artists take between one month and four months to complete it. One may find
these paintings hung on the walls of Buddhist temples. The purpose of these
visual representations is to invoke the qualities of the enlightened Bodhisattva
and the Buddha in those who offer their prayers before them. They alrve as
an important tool for personal meditation purposes or to instruct monastic
students. Regarded as the treasure of the Tibetan people, Thangka art is
renowned throughout the world.
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